I'm about to tell you how rad some of the 2018 Bell Helmets are, but you’ll have to be patient. They won't be available until, well, almost 2018. But I assure you, the low-priced, high-tech 4Forty, the aggressive, progressive Sixer, and the stealthy but screaming Super DH will be worth the wait. Bell decided to announce the new triple-threat at Crankworx. No better place to test your comfort with protective equipment.
Each helmet has its own new features, but they all use Bell’s new head form. I already happen to have what the helmet industry calls a “Bell head,” so I wasn’t ready to embrace any change, but turns out this was not an arbitrary one. Bell took 3-D scans of a number of heads and averaged and divided their shapes into up to four size ranges. After the redesign featured on the three new models, I’m still a Bell head, and odds are you are too.
4Forty | $95 (MIPS) / $75 (non-MIPS)
The 4Forty was the only helmet we didn’t get a chance to ride, but it may have the broadest impact. At $95, it’ll be the most affordable MIPS-equpped all-mountain helmet on the market. Or you can skip the MIPS and save yourself $20. But this is not just any MIPS. Bell conceived what may be the first fundamental evolution in the MIPS concept. They traded the thin, yellow sheeting we know for the black nylon plastic used in the rest of the helmet’s hardware.
This allowed them to integrate the MIPS structure with Bell’s retention system, which allows you to feel much more comfortable. Tightening the newly-extended-height-range Float Fit system tightens evenly around your head. It’s more like wearing a vented beanie than a helmet. For those who need an XL beanie, a couple colorways will be available for those with an up-to-65-centimeter noggin.
Sixer | $150
The Sixer is more refined and robust than the 4Forty. Some of the upgrades are subtle, some more significant. Starting on the subtle side, it's Bell's first mountain helmet to use their Float Fit Race retention system, whose cradles can be widened or narrowed to meet your occipital preferences.
There's also a cleaner camera / light mount up top and a rubber goggle strap traction patch out back. And the venting looks minimal, but the intelligently-channeled shapes will expose more of your head to fresh air than would most generously perforated designs. I noticed it, but only at high speeds. Things get a lot less subtle when you look inside the Sixer. It uses Bell's progressive layering which, in the case of the Sixer, means there are some lower-density foam panels wherever the helmet touches your head.
This is likely the best way for helmet brands to address the especially important, often neglected frontier of low-speed impact protection. I wasn’t willing to test it for myself, but I’ve had my bell rung in minor crashes more often than I’ve been knocked out in major ones. Hats off, Bell Helmets.
Super DH | $300
They also announced the Super DH, a new light-weight full-face offering. The Super 3R is sticking around for now, but this bridges the pretty wide gap between it and Bell's Full 9. It still has the removable chin bar, but this is a DH-certified helmet, which means it meets a higher bar of testing criteria. Wearing the Super DH feels like wearing a real, traditional full-face, just more ventilated, lighter-weight, and higher-tech.
Compared to the Super 3R, the chin bar isn't quite as close to your face, and it's much more substantial. And the Float Fit retention system allows you to angle the helmet back and forth to fit your head shape and clear your goggles. But what I'm most stoked on is Bell’s introduction of spherical MIPS and the Super DH’s application of progressive layering. It features a traditional EPS foam body, but sitting against your head is a much softer EPP foam liner.
The two layers meet on a smooth, slippery surface, offering the same motion as a traditional MIPS liner. The EPP foam is noticeably softer to the touch to handle slower-speed impacts. Overall, it’s encouraging to see that, while enduro bikes are getting more capable, there are practical helmets out there that can keep up.